Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Leaves of Three, Let Them Be...

Poison Ivy is everywhere this year and is extremely large and robust. While we like to see our plants do well, this is one I would just as soon see go away. Identifying poison ivy can be difficult, so the old adage “leaves of 3, let them be” is good advice. Poison ivy can grow as a bush or a vine, the leaves can have either smooth or jagged edges and the color can range from green to yellow to orange and red. I’ve had a number of people at the store ask what they can do for poison ivy, so here are some suggestions.

Poison ivy contains urushiol, and this oily resin on the plants is what gets on our skin and causes the rash, itching, swelling and at times, blisters. The symptoms happen 12 – 48 hours after exposure, so one of the best things you can do after being outside is to wash thoroughly with soap and water, including under your fingernails, to remove any oil. It is most effective to wash within an hour of exposure. There are washes available at the drugstore specifically for urushiol and I keep this on hand for those instances where I think I have been exposed and also lotions that are guards than can be applied before going outside. The oil can stay on clothing for long periods of time and through the wash sometimes, so I also remove all my clothes and wash them separately as well. The oil can also stay on tools, so wash any garden tools, and on pet fur, so your pets may need a good bath too.

Poison ivy will go away on its own but it can take several weeks and the itching can be maddening. If you have a severe case of poison ivy you might want to see your doctor, especially if you think you have it internally. Prescription strength cortisone creams are available which are helpful but most cases of poison ivy can be relieved naturally.

A cool water bath with oatmeal and/or baking soda will help soothe the itching. Jewelweed is the classic herb used for poison ivy, and it is readily found in the wild and usually always grows near poison ivy. To use jewelweed, split open the stem and apply the sticky fluid inside directly on the rash. I also make jewelweed ice cubes out of a strong infusion of jewelweed stems and leaves that can be kept in the freezer for when needed and applied externally to the rash. A paste of goldenseal powder and aloe vera gel can help dry up the rash, and tea tree essential oil can help with the itching.

Do you have any remedies you use that work? Feel free to post a comment and share it with others.

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